Champaign County ethanol plant bid hits snag

Champaign County ethanol plant bid hits snag

CHAMPAIGN – The Clint Atkins family has several concerns about a proposed ethanol plant, and the family won't sign, at least for now, an agreement necessary for the city to get its boundaries next to the project site to annex it.

That could substantially weaken Champaign County's bid for the $140 million plant, which has been proposed to be located near The Andersons grain-elevator complex in northwest Champaign, near the junction of Staley Road and U.S. 150.

The Andersons, based in Maumee, Ohio, is considering sites in Champaign, Dunkirk, Ind., and Greenville, Ohio, for an ethanol plant.

A site decision is expected to be announced in late November, with construction likely to get under way in December or early January, according to Carl Webber, an Urbana attorney representing The Andersons.

The plant would employ 30 to 40 people on a permanent basis and is expected to create 100 to 300 temporary construction jobs.

Mark Dixon, director of real estate, commercial and industrial for The Atkins Group, notified the city Wednesday in an e-mail that the Atkins family had concerns about the project and wouldn't be signing an annexation agreement to allow the city to annex the site and extend financial incentives, as had been discussed.

"There are a host of issues that the Atkins family questions about the proposed ethanol plant," wrote Dixon. "At the appropriate time, The Atkins Group is hopeful verifiable information can be presented that address the potential impacts (emissions, odors, water resources, aquifer, housing market, real estate market, local economy) to the community."

Dixon said he hopes a meeting can be set up between the Atkins family, who are prominent local land developers, and representatives of The Andersons.

Debbie Crow, a spokeswoman for The Andersons, said Thursday the company "will continue to consider our options for a facility in Champaign."

Webber said company representatives would be willing to meet with the Atkins family.

"I'm sure we can respond to their questions and set their minds at ease," he said.

The Champaign City Council on Tuesday approved extending the joint city-Champaign County enterprise zone to include The Andersons' 112-acre site, as well as another 48 acres needed to get the city contiguous to the site, including some property owned by The Atkins Group and Camp Farm Management.

But for the enterprise zone extension to take effect, The Atkins Group and Camp Farm Management, as well as The Andersons, would have to sign annexation agreements with the city – which The Atkins Group is now refusing to do.

Inclusion of the project in the enterprise zone would mean a 10-year abatement of city, county and Champaign Park District property taxes, worth $2.9 million to The Andersons, plus an estimated $4 million in sales tax abatements on building materials purchased within the state.

The Andersons wanted financial incentives in place before making a decision about a final site.

The city has the option of finding a different route to get the city boundaries to The Andersons site, but that would entail new negotiations with different landowners and getting city council approval again, all of which could take months.

"It is probably possible to attain contiguity and extend the enterprise zone via an alternative route, but that would delay the approval processes for The Andersons to the point where the project may not go," wrote Teri Legner, Champaign's assistant to the city manager for development, in an e-mail sent Thursday to city council members.

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